Frederick Delbert (Fred) Schwengel, the president of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, has to be the youngest-appearing 80-year-old guy around. As colleague Chuck Conconi described in his Personalities column in the Style section of yesterday's paper, the congressional leadership honored the Lincolnesque six-footer Tuesday evening at a reception attended by a few hundred of his closest friends in the House Ways and Means Committee hearing room.
Former representative Schwengel (R-Iowa) is an involuntarily retired congressman who, after his defeat in 1972 after 18 years in the House, retained his society presidency and has made it a one-time farm boy's crowning achievement. The organization publishes books, maintains historical archives, runs tours and otherwise celebrates that great domed building on what was once Jenkins Hill.
And in the university-like town-and-gown schism that separates Washington locals from congressional guests, it makes Schwengel, for the most part, a townie.
Schwengel got an affectionate introduction from his 1954 election classmate, friend and political adversary, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), some of whose remarks about Washington are being saved for a future column.
In Schwengel, said O'Neill, "the Capitol of the United States has . . . a permanent caretaker."
Schwengel, in response to "friendly Democrats, fellow Republicans," recalled his early life. That included a time in 1934 when -- attending college in Missouri -- he, as a newly inducted Mason, made coffee for a lodge meeting visited by a fellow member of the fraternity and candidate for the U.S. Senate.
"Brother Truman," an intermediary said, "I'd like you to meet Brother Schwengel."
Truman, in chatting, told Schwengel that "you've gotta have your history if you're going to be a sound citizen." Then Truman asked Schwengel's political preference. "Republican," replied Schwengel. "In my country," Truman retorted, one suspects with a grin, "we call you a God-damn Republican."
Well, two well-blessed midwestern politicians later came as ornaments to what we now call our Metro Scene, though Fred Schwengel arrived two years after Harry Truman departed.
Benefit in Ike Country
We don't usually flack for out-of-town causes, but in the case of John Corris and of Gettysburg, Pa., which we embrace as a Washington exurb, this column cheerily makes an exception. Corris, who retired as a Washington-based vice president of TWA, has moved to Gettysburg, where he is promoting the first annual Eisenhower Memorial Golf Tournament. It will be held June 27 at the Gettysburg Country Club, where the general/president often played, with all proceeds to the local Hospice of Adams County.
"Dwight David Eisenhower II grandson of Ike is the honorary chairman. He and his wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower and his mother Barbara will participate in the related activities," Corris writes.
And, thanks to the National Park Service, which has custody of the general's nearby home, Ike's golf cart will be displayed and serve as a photographic backdrop.